Microsoft’s attempt at an iPod killer, the Zune, has been released today to moderate fanfare. The question is: Can Microsoft unseat the Apple musical juggernaut? Microsoft’s going to do their best. Zune is competitively priced at $249.99, on par with the 30 GB iPod. The first generation Zune has the same 30 GB hard disk, has Wi-Fi capability for sharing music back and forth between Zunes, and includes a bundled AM/FM radio. It’s pretty cool — I may have to stop in at a Best Buy to give one a whirl sometime soon.
Zune’s fatal flaw won’t certainly be in the hardware (unless it proves incredibly unreliable) — the software is a big problem. First of all, Microsoft’s old MSN Music service was discontinued in favor of the Zune Marketplace. Even worse, the Zune Marketplace uses a different DRM scheme than the fairly standard PlaysForSure scheme used on MSN Music and quite a few other MP3 players. So, if one was an MSN Music customer and wanted to spring for the Zune, they’ll have to re-acquire all the music they had previously purchased. Ridiculous? Yes! It’s like changing a car audio system from a Sony to a Pioneer and having to re-purchase all the CDs for the Sony player because the Pioneer uses a different format. Ridiculous.
The solution for these disenfranchised consumers is, of course, illegal under U.S. law — a program called FairUse4WM exists that will strip the DRM out of most Windows Media files, making them open for usage on other players. There are similar projects out there to strip the DRM off iTunes protected files, which are very handy and work great…not that I’d know or anything. :)
Folks, the online music industry is nothing short of a racket. You are still better off buying CDs and ripping them to MP3 format if you want to listen to them on any device and avoid the ridiculous vendor tie-in that comes with most of these players. It’s a damn shame that the online music business, something with serious promise just a few years ago, has turned into an incredibly anti-consumer market, just like most mass-produced media nowadays.